While on a recent Sunday drive on old U.S. 40 a a few miles east of Zanesville, Ohio, I passed a flatbed trailer sitting on a gravel parking lot. “Look at that,” I told my wife as I braked and prepared to turn around. “It’s just sitting there, and anybody with a tractor could back onto it and take off with it.”
I pulled up to the trailer’s nose and pointed underneath. “See? Look at the kingpin. There’s no lock on it.” I got out of the car and retrieved my camera from the back seat and shot a few images.
“I see that all over,” I told her as I got back behind the wheel. “Years ago, on the streets on Los Angeles, in an industrial area, I’d see van trailers lining the streets with nothing done to secure ‘em. You’d think people would worry about that.”
This flatbed carried a brand name and looked fairly new. It had a steel main frame and an aluminum floor, rub rails, and side sills – a “composite” with the strength and low cost of steel and enough aluminum to save some serious pounds. The spread tandem had costly aluminum wheels with good tires.
Several tarps were strapped to floor and underneath were tire chains and dunnage timbers. Somebody had some real money tied up in this thing and there it sat, waiting for some clown to come along and snatch it.
Why was it there? we wondered. Then I saw a sign at the end of the lot where it adjoined a private road that led to a motel about a quarter-mile away. “No semis beyond this point,” it said. Hmm. Maybe the trucker dropped the trailer here and drove his tractor over there to hole up for the weekend, and he’d return for the trailer later.
“Or maybe a thief dropped it there after unloading it,” suggested John Barr, president of Carrier Security Corp., a maker of kingpin locks in Austin, Tex. I had called him about a week later to get some insight on the situation.
“Trailer theft is on the rise,” he said, citing National Insurance Crime Bureau reports.
“And lately they’re going after low-value cargo, like paper products,” he said. “I’ve been in this business since the mid ‘90s, and I’ve never seen this. Usually they go after high-value cargo – electronics and that sort of thing.”
He then rattled off some tales of trailers being swiped right from trucking companies’ premises.
“A customer in Colorado had trailers lined up in his yard. A thief drives in with a tractor and backs onto one and pulls away with it. Police go after him stop him not far away and he says, ‘Oh, I was told to pick it up.’ And he had paperwork to ‘prove’ it, paperwork that he probably produced himself. He was let off.
“Three years ago there was a guy in Houston who was in logistics. His loaded trailers kept getting stolen, and they’d end up four blocks away, empty. The thief was ‘nice.’ At least he returned the trailers to a place nearby.
“But another customer had satellite tracking devices on his trailers and when they were stolen, he knew right away exactly where they were. I don’t sell those things, but here’s a plug for ‘em.”
Using kingpin locks helps, but is no guarantee against trailers being taken.
“Some thefts are inside jobs,” Barr continued. “The thief knows somebody who works for the company and is getting keys to take the locks off the kingpins. The lock is only as good as the key,” he lamented.
“But, they’re going after the cargo,” Barr concluded before excusing himself to go into a meeting.
So I guess I shouldn’t be worrying about an empty trailer, though if it were mine I’d sure slap on a kingpin lock just the same. Carrier Security has some priced as low as 20 bucks – not a piece of Fort Knox, but maybe just enough to make it inconvenient and cause a lazy lout to look for an easier target.
More rugged models carry much higher prices, up to about $90 (www. CarrierSecurity.com). Barr also sells steel gladhand locks for as little as $13 and plastic ones for $7. Those would make my trailer even more of a pain to swipe. Where’s my credit card...?